Robert Glasper is still on a mission to make jazz accessible to a new generation. Out on October 29, his new album, “Black Radio 2,” is a followup to his Grammy-winning 2012 project that took that worlds of jazz, R&B and hip-hop by storm. And just as “Black Radio” did, its sequel explores the breadth and depth of contemporary black music, wrestling it away from its genre-specific confines. But Glasper didn’t want to make the same album twice. So on the second go-around, he and his band, The Robert Glasper Experience, opted for more R&B and neo-soul instead of the more obvious jazz fusion for which he’s been known. The result is a project that features black musicians ranging from Snopp Dog to Bill Withers. Here, Glasper gives Colorlines the track-by-track story of latest project.
“Baby Tonight (Black Radio 2 Theme/Mic Check 2)”
I really voted the day of to make this track the introduction. It was really just a random thought. On the first record we had an intro song where we had somebody talking over it and then we had the mic check and the first song. So I wanted to keep the same vibe for part two. When I was in the studio at the last minute, I thought of it. It’s something for the ladies. I wrote it right there on the spot and recorded it right there.
“I Stand Alone” featuring Common and Patrick Stump
Nowadays everybody’s a cookie cutter and that’s what the industry is looking for. Content goes out the window when it’s time to make money. A l ot of people lose themselves in that because they want to make money. I’m one of those people who doesn’t want to conform to that. I definitely wanted to have Common on the album. We’ve known each other for years and he’s one of those people who can say what I’m saying in a really poetic way.
“Interlude” featuring Michael Eric Dyson
The funny thing about the interlude is that the album was almost done. I was literally mastering it and Micheal Eric Dyson tweeted me and was like, “I love ‘Black Radio,’ man. Can’t wait for the next one.” So I hit him back like, “Aw, man. Thank you. I wish I would’ve known because I would’ve had you on part two.” And he was like, “Don’t play.” We DM’ed, got each other’s numbers, and he literally wrote [the interlude] in 10 minutes. That whole transaction happened within a few hours.
“What Are We Doing” featuring Brandy
The first jazz song I ever wrote was inspired by a Brandy song, “Love is on My Side,” in 9th grade. I love Brandy. I did a Twitter campaign with her and few other artists. I would tweet their name and say something like, “All Brandy fans, please hit Brandy and tell her she needs to be on Robert Glasper’s ‘Black Radio 2.’” All the people that follow me and follow Brandy tweeted her, and it ended up being so many people that she actually hit me back. The same thing happened with Faith Evans (“You Own Me”) and Anthony Hamilton (“Yet To Find”). It was great that I was able to do that and make that happen with the fans. Luckily for me, all of those artists had already heard of the first “Black Radio” so they knew the vibe.
“Calls” featuring Jill Scott
I didn’t want to do a video that was too obvious, like the regular neosoul video that’s so fucking obvious, you’ve seen it before: She’s on the phone trying to call somebody, asking them to pick up the phone. We got a lot of treatments for the video from different directors and Ace [Norton] sent in this treatment. It was just so out of the box and random that I was like, “Yes! Let’s do this one.” I wanted it to be visually cool.
“Worries” featuring Dwele
I first heard Dwele on J. Dilla’s album “Welcome to Detroit.” That’s when I got really introduced to who he was and then I started checking out his stuff. He actually was a special guest with my trio back in 2005 or something like that. We’ve known each other for a while and said that at some point we had to work together. When it was time to make this record, I thought it was definitely time to get Dwele.
“Trust” featuring Marsha Ambrosius
Most of the album happened as we went along in the studio. It happened on the spot because that’s where the real magic happens. I can’t premeditate everything and know it before I walk in, so I leave a lot of holes and just fill them in once I get into the vibe. Marsha and I recorded “Trust” and on the spot and I had an idea. We went back in and did a bass interlude and cut so that we had her repeat the line “Put me back together, mend my heart” over and over again. That was the initial idea, and once we did it I had the idea of having a preacher talk over it.
“Let It Ride” featuring Norah Jones
Me and Norah went to high school jazz camp together and I did something with her on Q-Tip’s album “The Renaissance” when I co-wrote this song called “Life is Better” that she sang on. But we’d never worked on anything specifically together. I wanted to hear her in a situation that she wasn’t usually in, so I put her on a drum-n-bass vibe. She agreed and luckily she had a few days off and came to the studio and knocked it out.
“Persevere” featuring Snoop Dogg, Lupe Fiasco and Luke James
I’ve known Lupe for a few years now and he’s on “Black Radio.” I wanted to bring him back again because people were loving our collaboration. As for Snoop, a good friend of mine knows him really well and works with him, so he took me to a rehersal that they were doing and I walked in and we starting chopping it up for about two hours. He was telling me about songs he liked on “Black Radio” the original and I was like, “What? Snoop Dog listens to me?” I asked him if he would be on “Black Radio 2” when it was time and he said, “Fa sho, nephew.” So when it was time to do it, I called him up and he was totally down to do it so we made it happen.
“Somebody Else” featuring Emeli Sandé
Emeli is a great writer. She wrote the lyrics for this song on the spot at the studio in one hour. She’s just a great person and was in town for the “Great Gatsby” movie premiere because she has a song in it. She gave me a few hours in the studio even though she had a lot going on!
“Jesus Children” featuring Lalah Hathaway and Malcolm Jamal Warner
I dedicated that song to the children of Sandy Hook. A friend of mine’s daughter was killed in that school shooting and so it really hit home for me. And I have a four-year-old son. So I just wanted to do something that speaks on that. And Lalah’s one of my favorite vocalists of all time so I definitely wanted her to do it.
Malcolm Jamal Warner—again, the universe. He came to the studio just to hang out with me because he lives a few blocks away. He ended up on the record. [Laughs.]
“Big Girl Body” featuring Eric Roberson
It’s hard when you have to pick what songs go on the 12-song project. This one was really about the mood for me.
“You’re My Everything” featuring Bilal and Jazmine Sullivan
Jasmine Sullivan and Bilal, they’re some of the greatest voices of our time, hands down. They’re both from Philadelphia and they had never sung a duet together. So I’m happy I was able to make that happen because they’re both really good friends of mine.
“I Don’t Even Care” featuring Macy Gray, Jean Grae
With Macy Gray, I love her voice. She’s just such a character. I thought it was dope that Macy Gray and Jean Grae—the grays—could be on the album together, which was funny because it wasn’t planned that way. It literally happened because I thought of Macy Gray to do the song and then I thought of Jean to do the song and I didn’t even put two and two together.
“Lovely Day” featuring Bill Withers
We did “Lovely Day,” the Bill Withers song, as a sound check for fun. And someone in the studio who knows Bill Withers called him, put him on the phone with me, and we talked for a second. I told him we did “Lovely Day” and he was like, “Aw, man. I’m so happy you did that. Thank you.” A few hours later he walks up the stairs into the studio. We were able to get him to introduce the song. That was really cool.